“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
Thus began "A Christmas Carol," arguably the most beloved and best known of secular Christmas tales. When it was first published in 1843, the author, Charles Dickens, was already famous, well known for such works as "Pickwick Papers", "Oliver Twist", and "Nicholas Nickleby." His debts, however, were mounting and he needed a quick success to pay them off. Having just returned to England after a speaking tour of the United States and Canada he was inspired by the appalling working conditions during a tour of Manchester and resolved to help the poor and “strike a sledgehammer blow”.
According to the Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens he later wrote that as the tale unfolded under his quill, he "wept and laughed, and wept again" as he "walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed."
The resulting book, which he divided into staves (the horizontal lines on which music is written) instead of chapters in keeping with the ‘carol’ theme, had a decided influence on the renewed celebration of Christmas and its traditions in both Britain and North America.
"A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas," to give its full, lengthy title, as was popular in Victorian times, was first published on December 19, 1843. Stave One introduces Ebenezer Scrooge and relates the ghostly appearance of his former partner, Jacob Marley; Stave Two tells of Scrooge’s tour with the Ghost of Christmas Past; Stave Three explains the tour with the Ghost of Christmas Present; Stave Four is about visiting with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come; and Stave Five relates Scrooge’s newfound determination to right his wrongs and better keep the spirit of Christmas.
The first edition was sold out by Christmas Eve and a further 13 editions had been printed by December 1844. Playing on the success of the novella Dickens began public readings in 1849 and performed them 127 times before his death in 1870. The book has never been out of print to this day, has been translated into numerous languages and has been adapted to stage, motion pictures, television and other media many times.
The first stamps that featured the Dickensian books were issued to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the writer in 1970. Turks & Caicos Islands released a set of four in June of which only one (Scott 206) featured a scene from A Christmas Carol showing a scene known as “The Christmas Bowl”.
Botswana followed suit in July with a set of four and a souvenir sheet but again only the 7c stamp (Scott 63) featured A Christmas Carol and shows Ebenezer Scrooge with candle in hand peering fearfully in expectation of a ghostly apparition’s arrival.
Issued for Christmas by Dominica in 1970, another set of four and a souvenir sheet (Scott 304-307a) featured scenes from A Christmas Carol. On the 2c is Scrooge being confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, the 15c shows Fezziwig’s Ball, the 24c depicts Scrooge at his nephew’s Christmas Party and the $1.24 has the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol appear on 9 stamps and a souvenir sheet (Scott 540-549) issued by Turks & Caicos Islands for Christmas 1982. The script for the Disney featurette follows the original story in many respects substituting Disney characters for Dickens’.
Mickey Mouse (Bob Cratchit), Minnie Mouse (Mrs. Cratchit), Morty (Tiny Tim), Donald Duck (Nephew Fred), Scrooge McDuck (Ebenezer Scrooge), Rat and Mole (Charity Collectors), Goofy (Jacob Marley), Jiminy Cricket (Ghost of Christmas Past), Daisy Duck (Isabel), Willie the Giant (Ghost of Christmas Present), Pete (Ghost of Christmas Future), with cameos seen on the stamps were made by Huey, Dewey and Louie, 2 of the L’il Bad Wolves, Practical Pig, Cyril Proudbottom, with Ferdie and Melody Mouse as Tiny Tim’s siblings.
For Christmas 1983, Anguilla issued a set of Disney stamps featuring scenes from Dickens stories including two (Scott 550-551) with scenes from "A Christmas Carol."
The 4c value shows Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit holding Morty as Tiny Tim. The 5c depicts Scrooge McDuck as his namesake Ebenezer Scrooge throwing open his bedroom window on Christmas morning.
The nine stamps in the set were also issued in limited quantities of sheets of 5 stamps and a label showing different characters from Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
An open book motif was used by St. Vincent in their 1987 issue commemorating the 175th anniversary of Dickens’ birth (Scott 1061-64). On the left of the se-tenant stamps of eight values, a single book separated with a perforation, is a portrait of Charles Dickens (c. 1860), during the time he was giving public readings of "A Christmas Carol."
Interestingly enough the first of those readings lasted for three hours while some subsequent ones were only an hour and a half, clearly the later were abridged editions.
To the right of the open book are artistic renderings from the story, Fezziwig’s Ball (6c), the Ghost of Christmas Present 25c), Christmas at the Cratchit’s (50c) and carolers singing Christmas Carols (75c). The 6c stamps were surcharged to 20c sometime between 1994 and 2004 (Scott 3267).
The $5 souvenir sheet (Scott 1065) features a young woman, probably a Sunday School teacher, reading "A Christmas Carol" to a class of rapt listeners.
Great Britain issued a set of five stamps with scenes from the book in sketches (Scott 1528-32) for the 150th anniversary of the publication of the novella in 1993.
The stamps show the characters in snowy street scenes with Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim (19c), Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig out for a stroll (25c), Scrooge walking down a street (30c), the butcher carrying a prize turkey to the Cratchit home (35c), and Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his wife (41c).
The bicentenary of the birth of Dickens was commemorated by Gibraltar in 2010 with a set of four and a souvenir sheet.
The £2 value (Scott 1350) features Dickens and the cover of an early edition of A Christmas Carol with an illustration of Scrooge and Marley removed from the book.
Jersey’s tribute to Christmas in 2012 featured scenes from A Christmas Carol with a set of eight (Scott 1632-39).
The stamps are not in chronological order by value as the 40p is captioned “A Merry Christmas One and all” a sentiment Scrooge would not have until the end of the book. The 45p has the famous “Bah Humbug!” exclamation with Scrooge at his desk.
Originally the term meant a “a person or object that behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way, often as a hoax or in jest” and has remained in modern usage due to the book and subsequent films.
The 50p is captioned “The End of it”, the title of Stave Five, showing Scrooge at his nephew’s home; 55p is Scrooge confronted by Marley’s Ghost; 68p depicts the Ghost of Christmas Present; 80p shows the Ghost of Christmas Future and 88p features Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
Pitcairn Islands celebrated the birth bicentenary of Charles Dickens in 2012 with a set of four stamps showing various photographs of the author and scenes from his works.
Only the $3 high value (Scott 747) is "A Christmas Carol" related as it depicts Scrooge in his nightgown and cap. An open copy of the novella is seen to the right of the stamp and a keen eye and a magnifying glass might be able to tell if the text in the background a page from the book is written in Dickens’ own hand.
In 2018 Alderney issued a colourful set commemorating Christmas and Dickens’ bicentennial.
The seven stamps (Scott 610-616) depict the main sequence of events from the book beginning with carolers in the street (41p), Scrooge and Bob Cratchit in the counting house (46p), Scrooge and Marley (62p), Scrooge with the Ghosts of Christmas Past (63p), Present (76p) and Future (85p), and Scrooge sitting down to a feast at his Nephew Fred’s home (94p).
The Channel Island of Jersey issued its second Dickensian set in June 2020 to mark the 150th anniversary of the novelist’s death with a set of eight both as singles, in a sheet of ten and in a souvenir sheet format.
Only one of the stamps, £2.92 value, depicts a scene from "A Christmas Carol" showing a terrified Scrooge being haunted by Jacob Marley.
The Isle of Man has issued "A Christmas Carol" set of six to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of Dickens in October 2020.
The stamp designs depict five of the famous engravings as they appeared in the book, illustrated by Dickens’ long-time friend and collaborator, John Leech and the ‘lost’ portrait of Charles Dickens as he looked at the age of 31 (£2.47) when "A Christmas Carol" was first published. Lost for over 130 years the portrait was found in a trinket box in South Africa and presented to the Charles Dickens Museum in London.
The scenes on the stamps show The Christmas Bowl (62p), Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball (94p), Ghost of Christmas Present (£1.17), Extinguishing the Spirits (£1.58), and Scrooge with Marley’s Ghost (£1.82).
First Day Covers also make colourful additions to a collection and often provides cancellations related to the theme. This cancel from Dickens House with A Christmas Carol cachet captioned “God Bless us, Every One!” was used with the 1982 Great Britain Christmas issue.
The cover was signed by Cedric David Charles Dickens, author and businessman, the last surviving great-grandson of Charles Dickens. He was a lifelong supporter of the Charles Dickens Museum in Holborn, London, and twice President of the Dickens Fellowship before he passed in 2006.
This 1970 Christmas first day cover features a cachet of John Leech’s artwork showing Fezziwig’s Ball.
A third cover with a John Leech cachet captioned “Scrooge’s Third Visitor” and a special 175th anniversary of the birth of Dickens cancel with Great Britain’s 1987 Christmas set.
The 2020 issue of the 150th anniversary of Dickens’ death also affords a colourful cover from Isle of Man and a gold ink cancel with the author’s name.
Having collected all of the above, one will probably notice that they have a few stamps extra, probably from having had to buy the entire set to get the one stamp required for the topic.
What to do with them? For now, put them aside, for one day, when this mini-topic is complete you may want to expand on it to a ‘Charles Dickens on Stamps’ topic and you will already have a few stamps to start you on your way.
This article started with a quote of the first line from A Christmas Carol, and so, it would seem appropriate to end the same way, in keeping with the season, with the final words from the book:
"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"